A vision for the future of UK clinical research

The UK has been part of the global effort to research and develop COVID-19 treatments, diagnostic tests, and vaccines. The government has published its vision for the future of clinical research, setting out how it intends to capitalise on the successes of the past year.

The pandemic has shown us all the power of clinical research, particularly the leading role the pharmaceutical industry plays in developing treatments and vaccines, and in the process improving and saving lives.

Whilst we have seen successes in the past year, most notably in the form of new COVID-19 vaccines developed by and in partnership with pharmaceutical companies, we also need to recognise the impact that this pandemic has had on our ability to deliver research in other conditions such including cancer and rare diseases. 

With the vaccination programme edging us closer to recovery, we are now looking at what comes next. We have an opportunity to create a more resilient, adaptable, and innovative research system across all phases, treatment types and conditions.

This vision is the result of a sector-wide collaboration between the DHSC, Devolved Administrations, the NHS, regulators, industry, charities, academia, research organisations and patient representatives.

It represents a chance to truly transform the UK clinical research environment and make the UK the best place in the world for trials and research – by building on the momentum of the past year and embedding the systems and practices that helped in the fight against COVID-19.

We now need to implement a plan to deliver on this transformation. Involving the pharmaceutical industry, which collectively invests £4.8 billion a year into UK research and development, will be vital.

Doing so will be central to the government’s ambitions for the UK as a science superpower and a global hub for life sciences

Why is clinical research so important?

An effective clinical research system is good for patients and good for the NHS. Besides helping us unlock treatments and, increasingly, cures for all sorts of conditions, it also brings value to the healthcare system, improving patient outcomes, and enhancing healthcare delivery.

It also brings economic benefits for the health service, with commercial research generating £355 million for the NHS in 2018/2019 alone.

With a substantial proportion of research and frontline clinical services still experiencing disruption, the UK needs a managed recovery process with capacity and resource available to support the restart of non-COVID-19 research studies.

How we handle this restart will be critical in the UK’s ability to deliver on this vision and crucial for the resilience of the healthcare system against any future public health emergencies.

This is something the ABPI has highlighted throughout the pandemic under three broad recommendations:

  1. Restarting and restoring research across the UK and across all disease areas
  2. Transforming the UK clinical research environment with investment to increase levels of research beyond pre-COVID levels
  3. Ensuring that all patients can be involved and engaged with research

Underpinning these recommendations is the need to embed clinical research into the health and care system.

What does this vision mean for the future of clinical research?

Today is an important first step towards rebuilding and supercharging clinical research, building on the successes of the pharmaceutical industry and the broader life sciences sector.

We all share an ambition to fully embed clinical research into healthcare practice, with diverse and inclusive opportunities for involvement, engagement, and participation in research across the UK, supported by new ways of working and data and digital technologies to streamline and modernise clinical trial delivery.

The next phase of this plan will be implementation: how we turn this ambition into action. The next few months offer an unparalleled opportunity to take a system-wide approach towards a better research system and enhance the UK’s global clinical research offer.

This offer must include reliability, agility, and resilience so that commercial sponsors feel confident that the UK can deliver high-quality research in a streamlined and cost-effective way.

We also need to continue working in collaboration with all parts of the health system so that the benefits can be felt by patients throughout the NHS and the UK.

The ABPI is committed to partnering with the government and the wider life sciences sector to transform the UK clinical research environment and delivering on the government’s ambition of becoming a ‘science superpower’.

Last modified: 23 March 2021

Last reviewed: 29 October 2021

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  • Clinical research